There’s a hell of a lot to like about Blue Manchu’s strategy shooter Void Bastards.
Throwing you into space and thrusting you into control of a number of “clients”, your aim is to repair the Void Ark so that you can get home. Well, I say “home”. What I actually mean is prison, as you are indeed the titular void bastards; quirky but expendable criminals who are rehydrated one by one until the task is done. Although maybe by taking control of the situation and achieving your goal you can redeem yourself?
That’s something for you to find out as you play through the game, and the story wonderfully plays out via comic book cells between major milestones. Honestly, the artwork is great, and along with brilliant voice acting it gracefully conveys a comedic tale that never fails to raise a smile. And what’s even better is that the comic book visuals are also carried through to the meat of the game: docking and looting derelict ships.
Void Bastards is essentially a game of two halves. Much of your time is spent aboard the S.T.E.V., a small ship which you use to explore the Sargasso Nebula. On the S.T.E.V., you can check your current character’s status, plan your route, and construct new items that will help you on your journey. Though for the last thing you need materials. And you also need a good supply of food and fuel to facilitate your travels. That’s where docking and looting comes in.
Pretty much every derelict ship you encounter in the Sargasso Nebula can be boarded and looted for its lucrative goods. But each one is also generally full of dangers. There are hostile creatures which you’re warned about before boarding, dangerous security measures such as auto-turrets, and also the occasional environmental hazard. Needless to say, obtaining the goods you need to carry on your adventure and empower yourself isn’t always easy.
There are other things to consider, too, such as the limited supply of oxygen you have. You can’t dilly-dally and take your time; your actions need to be swift and decisive. And sometimes the power might be down on the ship you’ve boarded, forcing you to locate the generator room and turn it back on before you begin your looting. Thanks to a number of random modifiers, each ship you board throws up unique challenges.
Things can be made much easier by crafting new items and powering up your character. New weapons can be unlocked and upgraded, your resistance to various types of damage increased, your health points boosted, and much more. Playing on anything other than the easiest difficulty levels, you’ll die, die and then die again. But it doesn’t matter; each time you die you simply take control of a new character with new perks, and inherit all of the crafted items that your predecessors created. Success in Void Bastards relies just as much on perseverance as it does skill. At least on your first playthrough, anyway.
There are other commendable aspects of Void Bastards, too. Its controls are fantastic, for instance, allowing you to explore derelict ships without any hassle and take down foes with confidence. It’s also very humorous, with enemies making crude quips as they pursue you. As I said at the outset of this review, there’s a lot to like about the game. But it also has one major problem: it gets very repetitive rather quickly.
As you travel throughout the Sargasso Nebula, you’ll soon discover that there’s really only a handful of ships. The layout of each one is randomised, sure, but you’ll soon get fed up of traipsing through the same scenery time and time again while also performing the same actions. Looting containers, operating panels and manipulating doors while shooting or avoiding enemies is fun for a couple of hours, but then it just gets a bit samey.
There isn’t a great deal of enemy variety, either. There are a handful of enemy types overall, excluding turrets and bots, and while they do get more fearsome and gain new attacks as you get deeper into the Sargasso Nebula, once you’ve fought them all countless times you get sick of seeing them. It doesn’t help that many of them are a pain in the arse to deal with as well, forcing you to avoid them for the most part.
And the structure of Void Bastards doesn’t do itself any favours. Your first playthrough will be spent chasing a number of items to craft yet another item that will hopefully allow you to repair the Void Ark. Only once you’ve crafted it, you’ll discover that you need to craft another item, which means collecting even more items. It’s lazy, and quite frankly tiresome. Some more interesting objectives along the way could really turn the experience around.
Some might find that Void Bastards offers more enjoyable challenges after they’ve completed it, however. Along with multiple difficulty levels, there’s an Iron Man mode to unlock, as well as a number of restrictions that challenge you to beat the game under specific conditions. You’ll have to forfeit your old save to start a new game though, and you’ll still be chasing items to craft other items for the most part.
I reached the end of my first playthrough of Void Bastards in around 12 hours, and for at least half of that time it felt like a slog. The new weapons I unlocked along the way rarely managed to inject any new joy into proceedings, and it felt like I was just retreading old ground time and time again, grinding my way to the finish line. Still, Void Bastards did make me laugh, even though I ended up hearing the same insults more times than I care to remember, and its art style is simply sumptuous. It’s just a shame that it’s so repetitive.